The first stages of training for any European astronaut start at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany. There, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and his five classmates were taught an astronaut’s toolbox of knowledge: scientific, engineering and medical skills, as well as orbital mechanics, Russian language and survival training.
After finishing basic and pre-assignment training, Thomas embarked on the next phase of his space journey, jumping into the crew training flow, a well-oiled machine that takes Station astronauts through two and half years of intensive preparations to launch.
Thomas had to train at a higher pace almost without break, travelling between all international partners’ sites. An intensive schedule took him to Houston, USA, Star City near Moscow, Russia, Tsukuba near Tokyo, Japan, and Montreal, Canada.
He has been taught Space Station systems in full-size mockups, where he learnt how everything works – and how to fix systems in case of breakdowns. He also learned how to run experiments and technology demonstrations, and got to know every corner of Europe’s Columbus laboratory.
Thomas learnt to use the robotic arm to help dock spacecraft visiting the Station. He was involved in berthing one of the US commercial supply spacecraft vehicles – Dragon and Cygnus.
He prepared for spacewalks in huge water tanks to get as close as he could to working in weightlessness outside the Station. He was fully qualified to venture into outer space. During Principia Thomas carried out two spacewalks to improve and maintain the Space Station.
Space on ground
To prepare for spaceflight, Thomas took part in mock missions that rehearse aspects of what he could expect during Proxima.
Thomas joined underwater exploration missions to a simulated asteroid at Aquarius, the world’s only undersea research station. Much like in space, he had to deal with a confined living space and total reliance on life support systems – 20 m below the sea surface off the coast of Florida, USA instead of 400 km above our planet.
He also participated in ESA’s CAVES training course, living underground for a week and exploring a cave system as part of an international team of astronauts in Sardinia, Italy.
Thomas went through survival courses in extreme environments, preparing himself to face all kinds of situations in prolonged isolation and under psychological stress. The courses help astronauts to be mentally prepared to handle emergencies, such as spacecraft depressurisation, fire or toxic spills.